Nassau Hall, photographed in fall 2019.
Princeton University, Office of Communications, Denise Applewhite

For the 11th consecutive year, Princeton was ranked No. 1 among national universities by U.S. News & World Report, which released its annual lists of the top American colleges and universities Sept. 13. Columbia, Harvard, and MIT tied for the No. 2 spot.

Responding to the widespread move to test-optional policies during the pandemic, U.S. News adjusted one part of its “student excellence” criteria: In recent years, institutions were penalized if fewer than 75 percent of incoming students submitted SAT or ACT scores; this year, the threshold was 50 percent. Princeton has not shared the percentage of freshmen who submitted scores; the Common App reported that nationwide, 43 percent of students provided test scores in 2020–21, down from 77 percent the year before.

“We are always grateful when the University is recognized for the steadfast pursuit of its goal to be a world-class research institution with a distinctive commitment to teaching at the undergraduate and graduate level,” University spokesman Ben Chang said in a statement. “As we fully resume the in-person teaching, research, and scholarship that are the heart of Princeton’s educational mission, we are reminded of the tremendous opportunities our students, faculty and broader University community have to be of service and make a profound impact on the world around us.” 

Forbes, which did not publish rankings in 2020, revised its methodology to emphasize return on investment. “Schools placed well if their students graduated on time, secured high salaries and low debt, and went on to have successful careers,” the magazine said in a press release. Princeton was ranked No. 3, behind the University of California, Berkeley, and Yale.

The Princeton Review paused its student surveys of on-campus experiences, since most students attended college remotely for all or part of the 2020–21 academic year. Washington Monthly continued rating schools based on social mobility, research, and promoting public service. Princeton dropped to No. 17 after appearing in the top 10 for three straight years.